24 July 2010

The End of Airline Multi-Culturalism

One of the joys of working in and around the airline business was always the multi-cultural nature of its people. People who worked in an airline could come from different countries. In years gone by the airline personell in a particular country were often seen as the ambassador unofficial of that country. In many cases the airline’s local commercial and operational staff were pioneers and became a help to anyone – especially those visiting that country for the first time. Rumours used to abound that local staffers of Pan Am, TWA and Northwest were often secretly operatives of the CIA. BOAC local staffers were viewed as part of the Empire. And Air France local agents could be secret agents of the Sûreté.

The reverse was also often true, multi-culturalism spread from the remote offices to the head office. A local who wanted to climb hirer in the organization could only do so by transferring to the Head Office. Thus within an airline frequently you would find people of different cultures and countries of origin.

However the emergence of the Global Alliances has in effect ended this golden age of airline cultural exchange.

Now as each airline withdraws its ex-pat staffers back home and the local country staff are managed often by that country's local staff of the home airline – those days have come to an end. Now Germans serve United customers in Frankfurt, Air France people service Delta customers in Paris, and Japanese JAL employees service British Airways passengers.

From a customer service point of view – I see this as a very bad thing. How many times have I been told by an Air France person that my Delta status is worth nothing when it comes to a problem. And in the USA United personnel look at me as if I am from out of space when I try to use my LH credentials.

Overall I think this is sad that we are losing one of those little quirks of the airline business. It also means that an overseas posting is now unlikely for an airline manager. Thus I believe the airline business as a whole will lose some of its attraction to the brighter stars of the next generation. So Global Alliances homogenize everything to the lowest common denominator. What you get - if you like - is the airline equivalent of Beige Boxes. More Silos!

So farewell good people. And thanks for the ride. It has been a lot of fun.


1 comment:

Andy said...

Quite right, Professor.

This is a shift in airline culture and it is making each airline more insular. I am just back in the UK after a 6 week consulting gig with a S E Asian carrier.

What struck me most was how disinterested their "one nation" team seemed to be in how other carriers, or cultures, do various bits of airline business and process.

Once you lose the multi-cultural mix and the curiosity it helps bring re how you regard the outside world, then it's a slippery & downhill slope...